I strongly believe the following:
The most dangerous weapon we carry around with us in the world are not atomic bombs and rifles. It’s ‘assumptions’.
One recent example of assumptions carried to the absolute extreme inspired this post. But before I get into that, let me help put things into context.
Living versus Visiting
While still living in Jamaica, I made friends with a man in his 30s who held citizenship in both America and Jamaica.
The child of two White Jamaicans, he was born and raised in America, but had come to idolise the tiny island after visiting often throughout his childhood, and even more often as an adult.
He had big dreams of running a family business and achieving success much more easily than he could back home. He had it all planned out. He would go to the beach every weekend to relax, start searching for his Jamaican Queen, and settle down with her and their biracial babies until the end of his days.
“You’re crazy,” I told him, when I found out where he was from. “Why would you leave America and come here?”
He spoke of all the opportunities in Jamaica, and of how much he had enjoyed prior vacations and knew it was time he moved and stayed long-term.
“Jamaica is a much different place to live in than it is to visit,” I warned him.
Certain that his own experience was more to the fact, he scoffed and chastised me for my own desire to leave.
To Europe, Maybe?
At the time, I wasn’t quite sure where I meant to go, but I was entertaining several options. I had two opportunities to head for Germany, one for England, and another for Australia. And at the time, Germany was beginning to look like a sure-winner.
But I was terrified (I admit it) of being so far away from anything familiar. I didn’t like the idea of trusting people I knew very little to see to my well-being until I became settled, and I couldn’t make up my mind.
So, I decided to make my customary summer trip to the U.S. to think and plot. A few months after arriving, it became apparent that Europe was a lost dream, and I was better off staying where I was closer to family and friends.
“I can’t believe you aren’t coming back,” the Jamaican told me, and then we didn’t speak for some time.
A few months later, I checked in to see how he was doing. “I’m going back home,” he admitted. “You were right. It wasn’t at all what I expected. My flight leaves tomorrow.” I haven’t heard from him since.
In Jamaica, we have a saying for this, though we usually apply it to living with people we think we know, as opposed to living in places we think we know. It goes a little something like this:
See me and live with me. Two different things.
My Own Lesson
Amused by his own underestimation of what he was up against, I was oblivious to my own taste of the same lesson.
Prior to moving to the U.S., I had been coming here for sixteen years. I started off with Florida at nine years old, and hated it. After that, I spent my summers and Christmases in New York and Maryland.
In fact, my parents even started the process for me to begin school in Baltimore – and then Columbine happened. My mom promptly sent me home on the first flight she could find.
In my mid-teens, Mom then moved to Georgia, and thereafter I spent every chance I got in Atlanta – up to five months each year. Sometimes I was even coming to visit for Easter.
So when it dawned on me that Wow, I’m actually staying in America, I also figured I got this.
But I soon learned I did not ‘got’ this. Just as I had warned my now estranged friend about Jamaica, not even spending a good third of my life in America for sixteen years prepared me for the reality of actually living here.
You get so much more caught up in the drama of the country you’re in, when you have a vested interest in seeing it do well, and you’re not just passing through and heading back home. And for me, I ended up here at a time when LGBT rights, feminism, and Black rights are at its strongest.
Thus, when Philando Castile got shot, I knew I would be dragged into this conversation whether I wanted it or not. I got a few messages from friends who know I’m infamous for tackling controversy, asking if I had seen the video. Yes, I had seen it.
Then, it was all over my Facebook feed. While I certainly believed there was much to be said regarding the incident, there was just so much hatred and fire running a muck on my timeline against ‘whiteness’ and ‘White establishment’ and ‘White cops’ etc etc .
I am all for speaking out and fighting for rights. My blog attests to that much. But I am not at all for hate, on any side. It doesn’t solve anything.
Thus, I escaped Facebook to see what was happening on Twitter.
Here Comes the Bandwagon
While scrolling through my own feed, I noticed a recurring theme.
As I am Jamaican, I follow a lot of other Jamaicans, and several were giving their most “expert” advice on what African Americans should do to not get shot by the police.
Some also proceeded to share ‘statistics’ that only Black people were being killed by the police. And that if White people never got killed, then this was most definitely a race war.
That got a raised eyebrow from me, as those of you who may have read my article on Jesse Williams’ speech and the Justin Timberlake aftermath, or did any kind of objective research on your own, would know that this is not true.
Blacks are disproportionately the victims of police brutality compared to their size in the population. But they aren’t the only victims – far from it. Yet if you look to the media for the truth around the world, it’s hard to believe they aren’t. No one else ever makes the news.
I then watched Jamaicans who don’t even live in America, hassle other Americans about what they need to do to fix this growing problem of police brutality, as if we don’t have police brutality in Jamaica too that we aren’t fixing. Ours is just not racially motivated.
My Big Mouth
Annoyed, and probably too opinionated for my own good, I tweeted:
I then set the phone down and started working my way through emails and an article for a client. Bored halfway through the article, I checked to see what might be a-stirring on Twitter. To my surprise, my Twitter mentions were through the roof.
As is customary of Twitter, people didn’t check to see what was said beyond the first tweet, or considered any context it might have been said in. Instead, they went full speed ahead, while carrying the following hilarious assumptions that:
- I must be American.
- That I was “amused” because Jamaicans should not sympathise with others.
Out of the hundreds of tweets I received from several different accounts, only one bothered to ask for clarification – sort of.
And one actually did the clarifying for me. For a time, it seemed that he alone got the point. Of the other three who finally figured it out, they rolled in with guns blazing, and then backtracked once they realised what was actually said.
On the one hand, it’s impressive to see so many from around the world mobilise together for a good cause. But on the other hand, the fact that we are so quick to roast each other without stepping back to examine the situation, makes me wonder:
Where is today’s civil rights movement headed, when people’s favourite weapon against hate is more hate.
Am I the only one just mind-blown by this?
Check out other favourite picks from my Twitter mentions below.
Arming People with Assumptions
The most dangerous weapon we wield in life, and often to our own detriment is our own assumptions. Ask questions. Think it through. Be objective. Things are not always what they seem, and certainly not always what we think they mean.
Had anyone even bothered to make it to the second tweet:
or miraculously the third:
…we could have had a much different conversation. But, welcome to 2016 on social media.
Still, I can’t complain. My Twitter engagement was ten times higher today, and my blog got more traffic than usual from Twitter. So… look how that turned out. #NoRegrets
Update 01.21.2018: Roughly a third of the tweets originally shared in this article have since been retracted by the users who posted them. Foot in mouth syndrome, perhaps?